After our Get Ready for Spring – Mid-Winter Driving Conference I was so thrilled and the turnout and excitement of people wanting to drive and getting more instruction and opportunities of things to do with their horses.  I read this article and I thought – our problems are not unique. These people want to train and compete their dogs because working with an animal is a unique thrill, that PETA will never understand. We are not unique in wanting to work our animals, fairly, humanely, but work is the essential component.

If that is what we believe then we need to promote it. It is up to us to support the world that we want.. The younger folks are used to things changing and they are quick accepters of change. We mature folks not as quick. But… accepting all that has happened with Covid – might not be the right answer. Maybe horses and driving is not something that should go away.

Maybe folks and their horses or dogs are the important things and these animals working for us and with us is the right thing and what should be going on in the future.

Anyway – that said – it is something to think about and what I have been thinking since our conference. We organizers will be working on our plans for the coming season and hope that everyone is excited for spring. We in the Northeast have wonderful summers andI am hearing of fun things being planned to do with our horses – stay tuned, and if you hear of something – do not hang back and wait and see. We are not Johnny cool, standing in the back of the classroom, waiting to see. Stand up, step up, and if you don’t have a horse – volunteer! Participate! Share the Information. Let’s keep this alive, or all we will have left is Netflix and Videogames.

Iconic sled dog race at risk. Iditarod’s economic and environmental challenges stack up

Alicia DelGallo USA TODAY

The future of the world’s most famous sled dog race is at risk.

Declining participation, economic woes following a global pandemic, climate changes and rising inflation are massive challenges for the iconic Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which begins Saturday.

Thirty-three mushers will race with their dogs nearly 1,000 miles through the Alaskan wilderness. That number is the smallest in race history, down from a 2008 high of 96 mushers and behind the 34 who participated in the inaugural 1973 race.

“It’s a little scary when you look at it that way,” four-time winner Martin Buser, 64, who retired after completing his 39th race last year, told the Associated Press. “Hopefully it’s not a state of the event and … it’s just a temporary lull.”

The race was created “to save the sled dog culture and Alaskan huskies, which were being phased out of existence due to the introduction of snowmobiles in Alaska; and to preserve the historical Iditarod Trail between Seward and Nome,” according to the race’s website. 

But a variety of challenges have taken a negative toll on the race in recent years.

Slowing tourism, fewer sponsors have hurt Iditarod

Mushers often supplement their income by offering sled dog experiences to tourists. That business took a dive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of kennels and a lot of mushers that rely on that to keep going,” said Aaron Burmeister, a Nome native who has had eight top-10 finishes in the last decade but is sitting out this year.

Without that supplemental income, he said, the cost of putting together a team of dogs is too great for many mushers. And sponsors are being more reserved in recent years as well, according to former champion Thomas Waerner.

Over the past decade, Alaska Airlines, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo have ended race sponsorships after being targeted by PETA, which took out full-page newspaper ads in Anchorage and Fairbanks in February. The ads featured a husky with the headline, “We don’t want to go to the Iditarod. We just want the Iditarod to go.”

Rising inflation means increased dog food prices for Iditarod mushers

Defending champ Brent Sass, who has 58 dogs, orders 500 bags of high-quality dog food a year, which now costs him about $42,500 a year after prices swelled from $55 per bag a few years ago to $85 today.

“You got to be totally prepared to run Iditarod, and have enough money in the bank to do it,” said Sass.

Buser said mushers often spend about $250,000 to race for the chance to win $50,000 before taxes.

Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said supply costs for the race itself have increased significantly as well.

How has climate change impacted the Iditarod?

Lack of snow has pushed the starting line north of Willow three times – 2003, 2015 and 2017. Poor conditions coupled with urban growth forced a permanent move to Willow in 2008, about 30 miles north of the previous starting line.

Thinning ice and varying winter conditions are a threat in the future, according to Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“It doesn’t have to be that there’s waves crashing on the beach,” Thoman said of the impacts of ice melt. “It just has to be at the point where the ice is not stable.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.